Boaters using the Cypress Point Kayak launch at Albany’s Riverfront Park, will see this view of the historic train trestle spanning the Flint River. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — As the tourism industry throughout Georgia continues to grow, Albany is no different, as leaders anticipate tourism in Southwest Georgia to continue that trend in 2014.
As the guiding force behind a significant portion of that growth, the Albany Convention and Visitor’s Bureau has some big things in store to help Albany continue to be an attractive place for visitors from across not only the country but the globe.
According to CVB Executive Director Rashelle Beasley, tourism in Albany and Dougherty County has emerged as one of the area’s most important industries, bringing in visitors from around the world and nearly all 50 states, but also much needed revenue into the community.
“People don’t really realize that Albany is making huge strides when it comes to tourism,” Beasley said. “Our numbers are going up every year. Five years ago I think we ranked 21 out of 159 counties; now we’re at No. 15. We are carrying our weight when it comes to tourism. I mean, we’ve really made strides.”
Some of the strides Beasley is referring to can best be reflected by recent data. In 2012 Dougherty County’s tourism industry supported 2,030 jobs while also generating over $210 million in direct tourism spending.
That spending created nearly $8 million in state tax revenue and just more than $6 million in local tax revenue. That revenue translated to nearly $400 in tax relief per household, according to numbers provided by Beasley.
While spending and revenue numbers are still being figured for 2013, all indications point to even stronger impact for the year.
Nearly every event type that the CVB tracks during the year increased in number from 2012 to 2013, leading Beasley to conclude that 2013 results will be even better.
In an effort to capitalize on that momentum and continue to build on it, the organization has exciting things planned for 2014, which include the continued use of technology to create a more digitally enhanced travel experience and continued use of the area’s natural beauty to draw more visitors to the area.
“A lot of our focus in 2014 will be digital media,” Beasley said. “Facebook, Titter, Instagram, Pinterest, those are the ways now to connect with people.”
In an effort to embrace the digital revolution, the organization is excitedly anticipating the completion of its new iCenter, which will be located on the first floor of the CVB office on Front Street. The iCenter will allow the CVB to better connect with visitors while also offering more exciting content to guests visiting the center.
“We will have the first iCenter,” Beasley said. “We will be able to track our visitors, capture their email addresses and they can fill out a little survey and those types of things which will enter them into the site to get coupons and send them promotions throughout the year.”
The iCenter will also feature an iPad that will project through a 42-inch flat screen TV and a second flat screen that shows content pertaining to visiting Albany and the surrounding area.
“It will constantly scroll our movie, all of our commercials and any videos that we have,” Beasley said. “If our attractions or any of the hospitality industry wants to give us video, we can upload that too. It will be a constant scroll promoting Albany.”
Beasley went on to say that the iCenter will also work in conjunction with the organization’s VisitAlbany app, to create a more comprehensive digital experience.
“It’ll be totally interactive for the visitor,” she said.
In addition to the new iCenter, the CVB is also working on two new apps to be released later in 2014 that Beasley hopes will draw visitors interested in historical and driving tours. Both the Paula Deen Hometown Tour app and the African American Heritage tour app use technology to take visitors through either walking or driving tours of area attractions.
“The biggest thing in tourism now is the heritage tours so we’ll be looking at a cemetery tour and a historic driving tour,” Beasley said. “Last year we hoped to launch more driving and walking tours in the app form, but those were lofty goals. It takes a whole lot of time to put those together and get them done right.”
In addition to increasing its use of technology to draw visitors, CVB is also hoping to draw guests to experience Albany’s outdoor resources, most notably, the Flint River.
“That’s one resource that hasn’t been leveraged and this year we look to really concentrate on leveraging our natural resources and our biggest attraction really is the river,” Beasley said. “With the new canoe and kayak launches being installed downtown we’re working to get travel writers and outdoor enthusiasts set up to travel down the river, get out downtown and enjoy some of the eateries and attractions.”
In addition to new things like the canoe and kayak launches and the digital iCenter, the CVB is also counting on some tried and true events to generate interest in the coming year.
In March, the city will host the Albany Marathon for the eighth year and in May will host the tenth SB&T Bike race in downtown Albany.
Another area where the CVB hopes to see continued success in 2014 is in family reunions. In 2012 the city hosted 64 reunions and nearly doubled that number in 2013 with 105 such events.
Recently the CVB hosted its annual reunion workshop and increased attendance at that function typically translates to increase reunion activity throughout the year.
“The attendance at the reunion workshop has doubled,” Beasley said. “Having more interest in the family reunion workshop we expect to host more reunions this year.”